(Pictured: Ringo Starr with Elton John and Marc Bolan of T. Rex, 1972.)
I have had quite the backlog of American Top 40 shows lately. This one’s nearly a month gone now, but worth some discussion: the show from May 6, 1972.
38. “Mister Can’t You See”/Buffy Sainte-Marie. Casey notes that although this is Sainte-Marie’s first Top 40 hit, she’s an extremely well-known performer, with lots of TV appearances and songs that have been hits for other people. He mentions “Universal Soldier” and “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” although they aren’t quite as famous now as they were in 1972. Her biography is pretty remarkable, from her early 60s folk singing career to five years as regular on Sesame Street to her Oscar-winning songwriting, and for six decades now, her activism on behalf of native peoples of North America. This is the second and final week in the Top 40 for “Mister Can’t You See,” which was written by country outlaws Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt.
37. “Sylvia’s Mother”/Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show
34. “Nice to Be With You”/Gallery
31. “I Saw the Light”/Todd Rundgren
28. “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All”/Fifth Dimension
These songs are strong reminders of the last few days of school and the first few weeks of summer 1972. Years afterward, I would work with a woman who claimed her mother was in Gallery, although I think it was after their early-70s heyday. “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” hung around deep enough into the summer to be on the soundtrack of a July night I haven’t forgotten.
26. “Little Bitty Pretty One”/Jackson Five. “I’ll Be There” will always be #1 with a bullet on my list of best Jackson Five tunes. Some of the time, “Maybe Tomorrow” is #2, but on a sunny spring day, you gotta go with “Little Bitty Pretty One.”
23. “Tumbling Dice”/Rolling Stones. In its first week on the show, up from its Hot 100 debut position of #50 last week.
12. “Family of Man”/Three Dog Night
11. “Oh Girl”/Chi-Lites
10. “Back Off Boogaloo”/Ringo Starr
9. “Look What You Done for Me”/Al Green
8. “Doctor My Eyes”/Jackson Browne
7. “I’ll Take You There”/Staple Singers
6. “A Horse With No Name”/America
5. “Day Dreaming”/Aretha Franklin
“Back Off Boogaloo” was a non-album single produced by George Harrison, creating a wall of sound worthy of Phil Spector, and it was one of the 45s I bought in the spring of 1972. Apart from that, this stretch of pure AM-radio pleasure needs little annotation. And it’s not over at #5.
4. “Rockin’ Robin”/Michael Jackson. Since the premiere of Leaving Neverland this spring, radio stations have been wrestling with whether to drop Michael Jackson from their playlists. The case for doing it is simple: no station wants to be the victim of a social-media shitstorm when somebody on Facebook decides that playing Michael’s music equals an endorsement of child abuse. The case for not doing it is also compelling. The list of performers who have been accused of immoral sex acts and convicted of illegal ones is lengthy. Don Henley and David Bowie were once involved with underage girls. The drug abusers are legion, from the Beatles to Whitney Houston. Led Zeppelin was supposedly into Satanism, which people tend not to like. Once you start dropping artists from radio playlists for moral turpitude, deciding where to stop can be difficult.
Critic Ann Powers recently listened to Michael’s entire catalog with Leaving Neverland in mind. She writes, “I’ve tried to determine what acknowledging Michael Jackson and the musical world he built means now.” Read it.
3. “Betcha By Golly Wow”/Stylistics
2. “I Gotcha”/Joe Tex
The Stylistics chastely proclaim their love. Joe Tex, meanwhile, demands kissin’ (and more) from a woman who may not be interested in him at all. In the #MeToo era, it’s a little hard to listen to.
1. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”/Roberta Flack. A positively massive record that hit #1 in its fourth week on the chart, is in this position for the fourth week in a row, and has two more weeks to run at the top. Its extremely slow tempo and sparse instrumentation allows Flack’s expressive performance to shine through, but those same tempo and textural characteristics kept the song off of good times/great oldies radio.
This was a really entertaining show, with some interesting features I didn’t mention here. Casey was at his personable best, if not quite as slick as he would become. And thanks to the warm spring days on which I was listening to it in the car, it couldn’t have sounded better.